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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Eight Excellent Read-Alouds for Middle School and High School

Hello Dr. Boerman-Cornell,

I am teaching summer school to freshman and want to use a novel you read aloud to our class. Unfortunately, old age has kicked-in and I cant recall the name. The class was  "Reading In The Content Areas". The main character is a high school Freshman boy .It's about his life and his friends'. I think his mom, was having a baby...or just had a baby girl? His friend ended up moving....or maybe he did? You used different voices for each character (another awesome technique I use to engage my class!) as you read. 

 Im sorry I don't remember the title but I will never forget how you engaged our class. When you get a chance, please let me know the title. Thank you.

(A Former Student)
Dear Former Student,
The book you are thinking of was called Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie and it is by David Lubar.  As long as I am giving you this title, I hope you don't mind if I give you a few more suggestions.  In fact, here are my top eight read-alouds of all time for middle school and high school:
Bloor, Edward (1997) Tangerine, New York:  Scholastic.

Paul Fisher and his family just moved up in the world -- into a gated community in Tangerine, Florida.  They moved mostly for his older brother, who Paul's father is convinced will win a football scholarship.  Paul plays soccer and is excellent at it, despite his bad peripheral vision (due to a childhood accident).  When his mom, hoping to get him the best possible education, signs and Individual Education Plan for him, she doesn't realize that it will exclude him from playing soccer.  Paul is unhappy until it rains for a week straight and a sinkhole opens up and eats several of the portable classrooms in his school, forcing the school to allow kids to transfer to Tangerine Middle School.  Paul transfers and makes sure that the IEP gets lost on the way.  Tangerine Middle school is filled with largely Hispanic students from working class families.  Paul need to find a way to fit in and make the team.  Along the way he learns some interesting things about the gated community and his brother.  This is an exciting book full of twists and turns and plenty of interesting themes to talk about.  Even though it is about a middle school kid, I read it to high school seniors for about five years and they loved it.

Lin, Grace  (2009) Where the Mountain Meets the Moon  New York:  Scholastic.
Minli's parents are poor villagers.  Her Ma is always unhappy, so Minli decides to go on an adventure to change their fortunes.  On her journey, she meets the Old Man of the Moon, Dragon, Buffalo Boy, and the evil Green Tiger.  With the help of her friends and a remarkable amount of courage and good sense, Minli changes the world (or at least part of it).  A summary doesn't do justice to this story, which tugs on the heartstrings of even the most cynical high school senior.  (The book is also a nice read-aloud for any classroom all the way down to fourth grade or so -- but don't tell your older students that.
Lubar, David (2005) Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie  New York:  Speak
Scott Hudson has problems.  He is beginning high school and trying to make sense of it, the girl he likes doesn't know he exists, his Mom is having a baby, a thug he met outside the principal's office keeps giving him rides to school in what may be stolen cars, he is trying to negotiate the narrow line between nerdy and cool, and he can't figure out the goth girl who lockers near him.  Scotts mistakes and sideways successes are funny, but a short time into the book you realize you really care for him and want him to succeed.  I find the ending of this book particularly satisfying.
Myers, Walter Dean (1999) Monster  New York:  HarperCollins
I don't care whether you teach African American boys or not.  Get this book.  Read it.  Then read it out-loud to your class.  It is a good one.    Walter Dean Myers, rest in peace. 
Preus, Margi (2010) Heart of a Samurai   New York:  Abrams.
14 year old Manjiro and two other Japanese fisherman are caught in a story.  Their boat is damaged and caught in a current that carries them far from their homeland.  They are eventually rescued by a British whaling ship.  Manjiro overcomes the suspiciousness that both groups have for each other, learns English, and eventually takes his place in the crew.  He later finds himself living in New Bedford as the adopted son of a whaling captain and as the first Japanese person to set foot on American soil, attending school, heading west for the gold rush, and eventually, returning to his homeland.  This book has a lot to say about prejudice and overcoming prejudice.  If you read it straight through, it isn't until the afterward that your students will discover that Manjiro's story is true.  It really happened.  (Because the story opens when Manjiro is 14, you might think it is ideal for 14 year olds.  The story, however, covers most of his life and really would work well for high school too)
Louis Sacher (1998) Holes  New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 
Let's just forget that horrible Disney movie version ever happened, okay?  The book is wonderfully written.  We follow the journeys of Stanley Yelnats and his various relatives as we unravel the story of a crime Stanley didn't know he was committing, a curse his family doesn't know they are the victims of, an injustice that no one remembers, and a friendship that almost doesn't happen.  My favorite part of reading this out loud is that when I get to one of the many twists, I stop reading and watch my students facial expressions and they make the connection.  This book has gotten typecast as a middle school or lower read aloud.  I can't figure out why.  I have read it to high school seniors to great effect.
Schmidt, Gary  (2011) Okay for Now  Boston:  Clarion
It is a great story.  There are wonderful themes in here of community and resilience and more.  But the thing that makes this novel a wonderful read-aloud is the slightly angry and defensive voice of the main character, Doug Swieteck.  The opening sentences:  "Joe Pepitone once gave me his New York Yankees baseball cap.  I'm not lying."  Doug, the narrator, doesn't trust his readers -- which is understandable as we start ot find out how horrible his life has been.  And yet, he is a likable character and this is a hopeful book. 
Sonnenblick, Jordan (2004)  Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie  New York:  Scholastic
You know how we joke about some movies and say that they make us laugh and cry.  This book really does both of those.  I am not going to summarize it for you because it really won't help.  You are just going to have to trust me.  You will love this book.  So will your students.
So anyway, Former Student, those are my top eight.  Maybe other folks who read this will have some suggestions to add. 
Best Regards,

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